Stockton’s waterfront is a free-for-all of homeless people, vandalism and constant theft, says the city’s marina management company, which is giving up on Stockton.
Westrec Marinas is pulling out. So are boaters, adds Westrec, saying harassment and theft are driving away Delta boaters and boat clubs in droves.
“We can’t have our employees working where they feel threatened,” said Vernita Loveridge.
The Western area vice president of Westrec Marinas, Loveridge usually works in the Phoenix area. She’s here to back up marina manager Leslie Flint, who was assaulted.
Evidently the boating community feels threatened, too. Guest dock bookings have plunged 80 percent, Westrec says.
There are other reasons: fewer big waterfront events, toxic algae, water hyacinth. But the crime, and nuisances from homeless people, are the worst.
When boaters pull into Stockton’s marina, “They get harassed, things thrown at them, heckled,” Flint said.
The marina is the epitome of pre-bankruptcy city incompetence and post-bankruptcy diminished municipal can-do.
The city wildly overspent on the marina. And though the city gave the lender a haircut in bankruptcy court, the facility loses up to $165,000 a year.
The city had the sense to hire Westrec, a major marina management company. Westrec sells the 66 municipal boat slips. It promotes launchings at the Morelli Park boat ramp. It books guest docks.
Now Westrec, having given notice, leaves Nov. 15.
The last straw was the Aug. 14 assault on Flint. The assailant was reportedly an obscenity-screaming homeless woman who haunts the waterfront.
According to the police report, as Flint opened the Westrec office that morning she was followed and attacked by the woman.
“She came in behind me and knocked me down,” recalled Flint. “I tripped over the bookshelf and went down, and she jumped on top of me and tried to scratch my eyes out.”
Flint, who went to a hospital, obtained a restraining order. The woman served brief jail time but returned. She recently screamed “the worst obscenities you can imagine” at a Visit Stockton group.
Before the last straw came many other straws. Homeless people harass and intimidate other Westrec employees, Loveridge says. One barged into a storage room behind a worker and said, “You know, I can take you down now and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
A security guard was mugged when he intervened in a fight at the boat ramp. “They turned on him,” Flint said
Homeless people wash clothes in public toilets, clogging them. They leave excrement on the walls. Thieves break security locks and damage doors constantly on storage and electrical rooms.
“They’ll kick them open,” said Loveridge. “They bend them. They destroy them. It’s incredible to me what they can do.”
Thieves twice ripped off doors from the gangways to north shore guest docks. The docks now stand unlocked and unusable. Except by homeless campers, who roost on them.
“They sit there all day and they’ll scream and yell,” Loveridge said.
A party of 10 boats tied up on the north bank. Thieves robbed at least seven in the night, Flint said.
Thieves strip copper wire from lights. The north bank at night is dark, as is the boat ramp, as is an adjacent south bank stretch.
Thieves use coat hangers and stickum to fish out envelopes of money from the drop box left by boaters paying fees to using the Morelli Park boat ramp. They also bathe there.
Thieves steal manhole covers. One player absorbed in “Pokemon Go” fell into a hole.
They saw off the ornamental iron fish from public art railings and benches.
Westrec employees escort boaters between boat and car. But the bad element is driving boaters away.
Loveridge recounts boaters who visited last Friday, a family with small children. They rented a slip.
“They went back down and said, ‘No, I don’t want to be here with my children,’ ” Loveridge said.
Part of the problem is that the south bank promenade is one way homeless people access the big camp by the dip in the Crosstown Freeway onramp to northbound Interstate 5.
City Manager Kurt Wilson issued a statement. It said in part: “Our police department continues to strategically deploy its limited, but growing, resources and has placed the highest priority on the reduction of violent crime.”
Granted. But is there no priority beside the highest?
On Aug. 24, the council appropriated $250,000 and directed the city manager to propose basic sanitary services for the homeless. It remains to be seen whether that will reduce the presence of the homeless or just make them cleaner.
Micah Runner, the economic development director, said city employees will run the marina until another management company can be hired. During that time the city can get a better sense of problems and solutions.
City officials are largely deferring to a San Joaquin County homelessness task force. It has been working on solutions all year. County officials are scheduled to unveil ideas Nov. 18.
It’s not that no one ever has a good time on the waterfront. But the city of Stockton has lost control, allowing a bad element to spoil its best geographic asset.
It’s too bad, said Loveridge. “This is a stunning area,” she lamented. “And for this to happen is ridiculous.”
— Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or email@example.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter@Stocktonopolis.